SARATOGA SPRINGS — Saratoga County supervisors on Tuesday approved a plan to let Shelters of Saratoga use part of the county’s Woodawn Avenue former office building in downtown Saratoga Springs as a homeless outreach center and potential Code Blue Shelter.
The lease, which is only for the coming winter, would give Shelters of Saratoga an outpost in a part of the city where the homeless population is visible, located next to the Salvation Army building that already provides shower facilities and meals for the homeless.
The outreach center would be used to connect homeless individuals who come in with social services, mental health treatment, veterans counseling, and other county services they may need. The plan emerged from discussions between the city, the county, and representatives of Shetlers and the Salvation Army, the local organizations that assist the homeless.
“It’s a great idea. It’s good for us to be a partner with the city in providing these services to the homeless,” said County Supervisor Matthew Veitch, who represents the city on the county Board of Supervisors and is chairman of the county Buildings and Grounds Committee.
It was during discussion at the Sept. 8 Buildings and Grounds Committee meeting that a supervisor suggested that the building, in addition to being an outreach center, could double as an overflow Code Blue Shelter, Veitch said. The Board of Supervisors approved it unanimously at a meeting in Ballston Spa. The lease will run from Oct. 1 until March 31, 2021.
The county building at 31 Woodlawn Ave. was occupied most recently by the county Public Health Department, but is currently vacant after the public health staff moved to offices in a new Public Safety Building in the town of Milton in August.
Long-term, county officials plan to sell the Woodlawn Avenue building, which is a roughly century-old three-story brick building. But Veitch said there is almost no chance of the building actually being sold before spring, meaning the Shelters program could operate through the entire 2020-2021 winter.
The non-profit Shelters of Saratoga operates a shelter on Walworth Street and also operates the Code Blue winter shelter program. Last year, Code Blue began at a leased building on Adelphi Street, but in March the COVID-19 pandemic forced shifts in location, first to the Saratoga Senior Center and then later to the underused Holiday Inn.
For the coming winter, the program is expected to return to Adelphi Street, but new social distancing guidelines are expected to reduce the number of homeless who can be accommodated there, meaning an “overflow” location will be needed. The shelter program has housed more than 50 people on many nights.
Under the lease, Shelters of Saratoga will not be charged any rent, but will be responsible for its own phone, internet and cleaning/trash removal costs. The county will cover electricity, water and sewer utility costs.
The lease will only be for the ground floor of the building, with the upper floor and basement blocked off to prevent access. The lease will allow the county to show the building to prospective buyers. If a sale were to be arranged, Veitch said there would be contingencies saying ownership couldn’t be transferred until after this winter.
“Obviously we’re getting into colder weather and we wanted to be sure we had something in place,” Veitch said. “We needed to find an overflow location, so the discussion kind of ran to that.”
Veitch said there has been a lot of interest from those interested in buying the building, but the county has not yet received an appraisal to know what the asking price should be. There’s also been some discussion that the city of Saratoga Springs might be interested in acquiring it, he said.
“I appreciate the county stepping up in this way,” said Supervisor Tara Gaston, the other supervisor who represents Saratoga Springs on the Board of Supervisors.